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The New York Times reported today: "Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to have initially weathered a barrage of news about her use of a private email account when she was secretary of State and the practices of her family's foundation." Two-thirds of Americans consider her a strong leader, according to a new Times poll, and 48 percent say she's honest. Both numbers are up since March.

Two days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported: "Hillary Clinton's stature has been battered after more than a month of controversy over her fundraising and email practices." Four in 10 people view her negatively, according to a new WSJ/NBC poll, and only a quarter of registered voters call her honest. Both numbers are down since April.

Five days ago, an Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 61 percent of people don't think "honest" is a good description for Clinton.

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What's going on?

First, these are all solid polls. The differences in findings are due to a variety of factors including the wording of questions, the makeup of people surveyed, and the public's inattention to an election that is still 18 months away.

Second, these vagaries are a reminder of two separate and distinct questions that journalists and operatives should ask themselves during any political controversy.

1. How does it affect the campaign? This is where polls are important; measures of voters' shifting opinions are relevant, if not reliable (see above).

2. How does it reflect the kind of president the candidate would be? This is where public opinion doesn't rule; journalists, in particular, need to follow the facts and not the polls.

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Whether the next survey cuts for or against Clinton doesn't change what we know about her actions, what we still must find out about her actions, and how those actions might be predictive of her presidency.

What we know so far is that she violated White House ethics rules on government email and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. She deleted emails, disabled her rogue email server, and allowed the brazen comingling of government business and the family business.

Integrity. Transparency. Accountability. These are attributes that people, particularly younger Americans, expect to see from leaders in an era of radical connectivity, social change, and institutional decline. So far, they're not seeing such qualities in Candidate Clinton.

I think she needs to come clean to win the public's trust: Allow an independent review of the email and return foreign donations, because anything less fails to recognize how much media and information has been democratized since the 1990s, when the tactics she's now using were effective. But I may be wrong.

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Perhaps The New York Times poll suggests that people won't base their votes upon these early controversies.

Or maybe voters will judge her harshly, but then Republicans will nominate a person whose character and leadership ability looks worse than the Clintons'.

She could win a lesser-of-two-evils election, which would further divide and polarize the nation.

That would be OK with people like Eric Boehlert, an unyieldingly liberal partisan who works for the pro-Clinton Media Matters. Seizing on The New York Times poll as proof that the boss had weathered the controversy, Boehlert took a victory lap around Twitter.

Team Clinton blames the foundation controversy on a book called Clinton Cash, rather than acknowledging the scores of nonpartisan media outlets that confirmed many of the author's findings and uncovered several of their own. It's a cynical, disingenuous strategy. It might work.

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This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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